OLYMPIA — In a last-minute move, the Washington Legislature Sunday night passed Initiative 1000, a measure that overturns the state’s 20-year-old, voter-approved ban on affirmative action.
By Monday morning, a group opposing the initiative had already filed a referendum seeking to put the measure to a public vote.
The development sets up a possible clash over views on race and equity this November at the ballot box — the place where the debate began.
I-1000 repeals Initiative 200, a measure approved by Washington voters 20 years ago. I-200 blocked the government from giving preferential treatment to, or discriminating against, people and groups on the basis of sex, ethnicity, color, race or national origin.
In Sunday night votes in the waning hours of Washington’s 2019 legislative session, Democratic majorities in the House and Senate propelled I-1000 to passage. The House approved it 56 to 42, and the Senate passed it 26 to 22.
No Republicans favored the measure; one Democrat in the House and one in the Senate opposed it.
During the debate, Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle, urged his colleagues to approve the measure.
“We can’t close our eyes to say there’s no racism, or there’s no institutionalized racism or institutionalized barriers, because there are,” said Hasegawa. “And the statistics show up in the criminal justice system, the education system, from top to bottom.”
In a statement Monday, Metropolitan King County Councilmember Larry Gossett cheered the measure’s passage, saying the signatures gathered for the initiative represented a call for lawmakers for action.
“Last night, the legislators heeded that call, adopting I-1000 and ending the two decades of the onerous barriers that I-200 created for people of color, underserved populations, women, and veterans,” Gossett said in a news statement.
During the debate Sunday, Republicans argued against the initiative. Senate GOP Deputy Minority Leader Sharon Brown of Kennewick said she taught her mixed-race children to achieve their goals through hard work.
“They don’t want a seat on the corporate board because of their race, because of their gender, they want it because of their experience,” said Brown. “They want it because of their merit.”
Outside the House and Senate chambers, meanwhile, a handful of protesters loudly protested, chanting, “Let people vote!”
One of those people was Kan Qiu, a 49-year-old Bellevue resident who on Monday morning filed the referendum against I-1000.
Qiu said he grew up in China, protested at Tiananmen Square during the infamous 1989 demonstrations, and later came to America for college.
He went from watching his grandfather struggle with unemployed because he wasn’t in step with China’s communist regime, Qiu said, to seeing his mother blocked from attending college in that country. But he went on to build a life in America and send his son to Northwestern University.
“It’s all determination,” said Qiu, who is part of WA Asians 4 Equality, a group that has opposed I-1000. He called the measure “divisive.”
Roughly 130,000 signatures from registered voters would be needed by July 27 to get the referendum on the Nov. 5 general election ballot, according to the Washington Secretary of State’s Office.
Early this year, the I-1000 campaign submitted approximately 400,000 signatures, more than any previous initiative to the Legislature.
As an Initiative to the Legislature, lawmakers could have chosen not to act on I-1000, which would have sent the measure to the fall ballot.
Last August, community advocates kicked off the I-1000 campaign at Seattle’s Mount Zion Baptist Church in Seattle. Former Govs. Dan Evans, Gary Locke and Christine Gregoire, along with Gov. Jay Inslee, all threw their support behind it.
But after collecting those signatures, the campaign also found itself deep in debt. It owed more than $1.3 million to the companies and people who collected signatures on the petitions.
The measure passed in the final hours on the last day of the Legislature’s regularly-scheduled 2019 session. It came to the House and Senate floors after lawmakers struggled to finish a key bill on time. But legislators found a compromise on the bill to raise caps on how much money school districts could raise through local tax levies, and ended the session on-time.